By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; B04
An Illinois man who had been charged with fatally stabbing two young girls was freed Wednesday after DNA evidence linked the slayings to an ex-Marine accused of attacking women in Northern Virginia.
Jerry Hobbs, 39, spent the past five years in jail awaiting trial on capital murder charges in the 2005 slayings of his daughter, Laura, 8, and her friend Krystal Tobias, 9, in Zion, Ill. But Lake County prosecutors, who previously said they would seek the death penalty, dropped all charges Wednesday. It was a little more than a month after genetic evidence gathered at the crime scene was matched with a sample that had been entered in the national DNA databank.
The investigation into the girls' killings now is focused on Jorge "George" Torrez, 21, who is charged in Arlington County with two assaults on strangers. Torrez grew up in Zion, where he lived only blocks from the victims' homes. He has not been charged in the slayings, but law enforcement sources said he is the chief suspect.
In February, Arlington police arrested Torrez, an ex-Marine who had been stationed at Fort Myer. Afterward, a sample of his DNA was entered in the databank. If his arrest had occurred in another state, that might not have happened.
In 2003, Virginia became the first state to take DNA samples from most suspects as soon as they are arrested, rather than after conviction. Seventeen other states now have similar policies, but laws vary on the charges that require DNA collection.
Arlington Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Theo Stamos said Torrez is scheduled to go to trial in October on felony charges in connection with two February attacks.
Police said that on Feb. 10, Torrez tried to force a woman into a car at gunpoint on North Quincy Street in Arlington, but the woman was able to escape.
Later that month, police said, Torrez approached two young women who were arriving at their North Wakefield Street home after a late-night meal in Ballston and ordered them inside at gunpoint. When he noticed that one woman had dialed 911 on her cellphone, he grabbed her and forced her into a car. Four hours later, the woman, who had been beaten and sexually assaulted in a wooded area, was found struggling to reach the road in Prince William County.
Jason Rucker, Torrez's attorney in Arlington, declined to comment Wednesday.
Torrez joined the Marine Corps at 18, immediately after graduating from high school in Zion, his sister, Sara Torrez, told The Washington Post in February. He served in Okinawa, Japan, for two years, she said, before moving to Northern Virginia last year. She said her brother worked at the Pentagon at the time of his arrest.
A Marine spokesman said Torrez was discharged from the Corps in April.
Hobbs discovered the bodies of his daughter and the other girl May 9, 2005, in a park. Authorities said he confessed to the killings, but he later said the confession was coerced.
During a news conference Wednesday, Lake County State's Attorney Michael J. Waller said the discovery at the crime scene of DNA that did not match Hobbs's was "a red flag" but did not immediately exonerate Hobbs. Authorities reopened the investigation after the link to Torrez came to light.
"Obviously it was a red flag. . . . That's why we put it in the database," Waller said. "It wasn't necessarily linked to the crime. The girls were fully clothed, there was no evidence that they had been sexually assaulted at the time."
Sara Torrez told the Chicago Tribune that the family's home in Zion had been searched by Lake County police, who said they were investigating the deaths of two children. She told the paper that her brother was friends with Krystal Tobias's older brother.
Hobbs planned to go to Texas to see his mother and stepfather, according to a law firm representing the family. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Keith Grant, said Hobbs "has never been anything other than a grieving father."